No doubt we are all familiar with the Disney movie of yesteryear: Pinocchio. As I child, I remember watching the scene where Jiminy Cricket begins to twirl his umbrella, dance and sing the catchy tune where we are told to “always let your conscience be your guide.” While Pinocchio is a fun and whimsical movie about telling the truth, in this brief article, we step back and consider “should our conscience really be our guide?” For the follower of Christ, do we assertively follow our conscience? I want to address a few of these thoughts over the next few weeks.
What is the Conscience?
Our conscience is a gift given by God for our joy and ultimate good. The conscience is a personal sensitivity/warning mechanism to the vast moral and ethical decisions that we make each day. Scripture is clear that not every individual has the same conscience. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 would be unnecessary if that were the case. It is something that is personal to you, and must not be forced upon others.
Can Our Conscience be Impacted?
Our conscience is part of human experience. From an anthropologic sense, it is tainted with sinful expectations, standards, and proclivities. Our environments can lend itself to changing our conscience. Scripture teaches that we can damage the gift of conscience by allowing it to become insensitive or oversensitive. We make conscience insensitive by developing a habit of ignoring its voice of warning so that the voice gets weaker and weaker and finally disappears. We make conscience oversensitive by packing it with too many rules that are actually matters of opinion, not right and wrong.
Don’t Confuse Conscience with the Holy Spirit
Much confusion is seen when we mix conscience with the Holy Spirit. Believer, this may be heard to understand BUT your conscience is NOT identical to the voice of God. That voice in your head is NOT necessarily what God would say. So how can we discern between conscience and the Holy Spirit? You can’t know infallibly. However, you can know when it is not the Holy Spirit — if the message opposes Scripture. It may be that it is not from the Holy Spirit but from your wrongly calibrated conscience. We must be careful to differentiate “the voice” to make sure that the message is consistent with Scripture. When “the voice” matches scriptural precedent, it is likely the Holy Spirit working through your conscience.
As we come to understand God’s revealed will more and more, we have opportunities to add rules to our conscience that God’s Word clearly teaches and weed out rules that God’s Word treats as optional. This takes a lifetime, but we have the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the church of God to help us. We will look at this more next week.